Unlike the Republican debates, with their share of liars, clowns, and blowhards, the Democratic debate delivered less inherent outrageousness, but that does not mean there is any less fodder for fact checking the candidates’ statements.
Progressive topics, many of which were not covered in two earlier Republican debates, ranged from gun control to income inequality to criminal justice reform. But while there were no outright lies, the candidates still tried to mix and match statistics and airbrush records to make themselves more credible to viewers.
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley each had their share of elisions. Here are three topics each candidate brought up, and how what they said measured up to reality.
The deal, which has been a very major point of division between Democrats and Obama, who supports it, would revolutionize trade with Asia. Clinton, who has been accused of being a flip-flopper, was taken to task for exactly this issue. She had once supported the deal, but shortly before the debate had come out against it.
During the debate she used the trade deal to illustrate her point that she had never changed her fundamental stances on the issues — she had merely adjusted to new developments and new information. She said that when she was Secretary of State, she had “hoped it would be the gold standard,” but when she looked at the TPP deal again last week, “it didn’t meet my standards.”
The key word here is “hope.”
The speech she was referring to occurred in Australia three years ago, where she was pretty definitive on the topic, saying, “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.”
However, as PolitiFact reported, her comments when in her role as Secretary of State need to be seen in a different context: She was speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, which supported the deal, and, as a Cabinet member, she had access to classified information. When those comments were made in 2012, the deal was still being negotiated – and so many details could have changed, prompting Clinton’s reversal.
“It’s quite possible the deal looks dramatically different than it did at the early stages of negotiations,” writes PolitiFact, and since the negotiation details are not public knowledge, “it’s hard for us to assess” whether it was Clinton who flip-flopped or the deal.
Income inequality is Bernie Sanders’ main campaign theme and one that is shaping up to be a major issue in the 2016 election. Several of the topics discussed, including criminal justice reform, college affordability, and wage stagnation, all fall under this umbrella.
He also said that the U.S. was the worst when it came to inequality. Worldwide, that’s not exactly true, as Politico explained: Developing countries, mostly in Africa, have greater income disparity, according to the Gini Coefficient, which measures this. But it’s likely that Sanders was comparing the U.S. strictly to developed countries – in this case, often defined as those in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – in which case, the United States ranks much higher in inequality than any other country except Mexico.
Sanders also hammered the point that wealth is largely concentrated in the hands of a few in this country, and that it’s getting worse: “The top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent – almost – own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.”
Those numbers, with the exception of the last sentence, are taken from a 2014 working paper by two economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research, which argues that wealth has become concentrated by the super-wealthy. The top-tenth of one percent is made up of 160,000 families with net assets of $20 million.
The 57 percent is taken from an updated statement on the previous paper, which used 2014 numbers.
Crime in Baltimore
O’Malley is running partially on his crime record while mayor of Baltimore, and was asked by Anderson Cooper to defend his stance on criminal justice matters — particularly after riots broke out in that city when Freddie Gray died in police custody earlier this year.
In his remarks, O’Malley used a technical term, FBI Part 1 crime data, which refers to violent crime that includes forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and arson. It’s true that during O’Malley’s tenure as mayor of Baltimore (1999 – 2007) crime dropped, and between 1999 and 2009 Baltimore had the third-highest drop in violent crime among similar cities during that time.
However, arrests surged during the same time, due to the city’s adoption of “Broken Windows” policing, a controversial, statistics-based, zero-tolerance approach to crime that originated in New York City in 1994. This directly contradicts O’Malley’s claim that “arrests had fallen to a 38-year low prior to Freddie Gray’s tragic death” and had “peaked in 2003.” (O’Malley’s administration’s crime policies were famously fictionalized in The Wire.)
As the Washington Post reported, those policing tactics have since been blamed for causing much of the unrest that has plagued Baltimore recently, since many of those who were jailed were arrested for low-level crimes. Activists said the policy “mistreated young black men…fueling a deep mistrust of law enforcement,” which inflamed the protests when Freddie Gray’s death came to light.
Photo: The stage is set for the first democratic presidential candidate debate held at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake